Hollywood's struggles threatens the future of local theaters

Pandemic shutdowns, move to streaming could change movie going for ever

In show business, the tradition is ‘the show must go on’’ -- except no one told that to the novel coronavirus.

The scourge of COVID-19 has decimated thousands of businesses including parts of the movie industry. From Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood to Main Street, USA the movie business has been plagued by layoffs. While studios have moved films to streaming services to generate some revenue, theaters – especially local independent cinemas have been hard hit.

“If the magic of movie-going does not return, (the) business will not survive,” New York City theater owner Nick Nicolaou told FOX Business’s Kristina Partsinevelos, “And I will fight until my last breath because I believe in it, and I believe in people going out to the movies.”

Betty Gallagher, left, carries popcorn and drinks beside Mary MacBeth as they pass by the ticket checkpoint, heading off to see, "I Still Believe", one of the first showings at the AMC theatre when it re-opened for the first time since shutting down

AMC RENTING OUT THEATERS FOR $99 AMID PANDEMIC RECOVERY PLANS

Local mandates and restrictions on capacity have put a severe dent in ticket sales, and many theaters are entering their ninth month of vacant- or nearly empty- auditoriums.

Recently the National Association of Theater Owners sent a letter to Congress pleading for assistance. “If the status quo continues, 69% of small and midsized movie theater companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently, and 66% of theater jobs will be lost,” read the NATO letter.

While giant theater chains like AMC and Regal are also suffering, they have reached deals for new capital and debt refinancing. Smaller theaters do not have those avenues available.

Nicolaou’s theater in the lower east side of Manhattan, Cinema Village, has been open for 60 years. The pandemic marks the first and longest time that his theater, in addition to two others, has remained shut down -- now approaching three-quarters of a year since they closed in March.

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Nicolauou said he has been bending over backward to welcome customers to no avail. He even installed a new air filtration system costing him thousands of dollars to ensure that his theater could operate safely. In New York City, where the industry has been hit the hardest, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to give cinemas the greenlight to reopening. Recent hints of another statewide shutdown could cede any hopes of a resurrection for the remainder of the year.

As the industry nears the traditional holiday peak season with the Christmas release schedule, theaters are grappling with a new round of devastating blows.

A shopper walks past a closed AMC movie theater Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is imposing an overnight curfew as the most populous state tries to head off a surge in coronavirus cases. (AP Photo/Marcio

WARNER BROS. WILL RELEASE ALL 2021 FILMS ON STREAMING SERVICE HBO MAX AND IN THEATERS

On top of closures, major Hollywood studios are overhauling theatrical release schedules and opting for streaming platform debuts.

Just last week, one of the world’s largest movie studios, Warner Bros and parent Warner Media, announced a new hybrid plan that it will premiere upcoming films in both theaters and on its fledgling streaming service, HBOMax, at the same time. First up is the highly anticipated, “Wonder Woman 1984” on Christmas Day. Other titles will follow suit through 2021 including the new “Matrix” movie, “In the Heights” and “Dune.”

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The move has not sat well with several of Hollywood’s top creative types including marquee film directors such as Christopher Nolan. His most recent film, “Tenet” was released by Warner in the midst of the pandemic. While it took in $357 million worldwide, only $57.6 million came from the domestic box office. He has called the decision by AT&T owned Warner Media to move films to HBO Max “not good for business.”

While Nicolaou called movie going an “American tradition” if these mounting issues are not addressed, no matter the size of the movie theater, he said it may not be “a happy ending for the movie industry.”

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